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Patent Analysis of

FOOTWEAR ASSEMBLY METHOD WITH 3D PRINTING

Updated Time 15 March 2019

Patent Registration Data

Publication Number

US20180186112A1

Application Number

US15/911007

Application Date

02 March 2018

Publication Date

05 July 2018

Current Assignee

NIKE, INC.

Original Assignee (Applicant)

NIKE, INC.

International Classification

B29D35/12,A43B23/02,B33Y80/00,B29C64/112,A43B1/04

Cooperative Classification

B33Y80/00,A43B13/14,A43B1/04,A43B3/0084,A43B23/0235

Inventor

JONES, DAVID P.,LARSON, RYAN R.

Patent Images

This patent contains figures and images illustrating the invention and its embodiment.

FOOTWEAR ASSEMBLY METHOD WITH 3D PRINTING FOOTWEAR ASSEMBLY METHOD WITH 3D PRINTING FOOTWEAR ASSEMBLY METHOD WITH 3D PRINTING
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Abstract

Methods and systems are disclosed for apparel assembly using three-dimensional printing directly onto fabric apparel materials. Disclosed is a method and system for direct three-dimensional printing and assembly of an article of apparel, including designing a three-dimensional pattern for printing, positioning at least a portion of the article on a tray in a three-dimensional printing system, the portion being positioned substantially flat on the tray, printing a three-dimensional material directly onto the article using the designed pattern, curing the printed material, and removing the article from the three-dimensional printing system.

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Claims

1. A method of three-dimensional printing and assembly of an article of footwear, comprising: positioning a side of an upper of the article of footwear on a tray in a three-dimensional printing system to provide a first printing substrate, the side of the upper including at least a first fabric portion; printing at least one first three-dimensional material directly onto the first printing substrate, including the first fabric portion, based on at least one first three-dimensional pattern; curing the at least one first three-dimensional material; forming a secondary shape with the upper; positioning at least a portion of a bottom of the secondary shape on the tray to provide a second printing substrate for printing a sole of the article of footwear; printing at least one second three-dimensional material directly onto the second printing substrate of the article based on at least one second three-dimensional pattern to form the sole of the article of footwear; curing the at least one second three-dimensional material; and removing the article of footwear from the three-dimensional printing system, wherein the first and second printing substrates are part of the article of footwear.

2. The method according to claim 1, wherein the printing of the at least one first three-dimensional onto the first printing substrate comprises printing at least one layer of the at least one first three-dimensional material, and wherein the printing of the at least one second three-dimensional material onto the second printing substrate comprises printing at least one layer of the at least one second three-dimensional material.

3. The method according to claim 1, wherein the printing of the at least one first three-dimensional material and the at least one second three-dimensional material comprises: allowing the at least one first three-dimensional material to at least partially absorb into the first fabric portion of the article of footwear prior to the curing of at least one of the first three-dimensional material; and allowing the at least one second three-dimensional material to at least partially absorb into a second fabric portion of the second printing substrate of the article of footwear prior to the curing of the at least one second three-dimensional material.

4. The method according to claim 1, wherein the printing at least one first three-dimensional material onto the first printing substrate further comprises: printing a first layer of the at least one first three-dimensional material; allowing the first layer of the at least one first three-dimensional material to at least partially absorb into the first fabric portion of the article of footwear; curing the first layer of the at least one first three-dimensional material; printing at least one additional layer of the at least one first three-dimensional material on the cured first layer of the at least one first three-dimensional material; and curing the at least one additional layer of the at least one first three-dimensional material.

5. The method according to claim 1, wherein the printing at least one second three-dimensional material onto the second printing substrate further comprises: printing a first layer of the at least one second three-dimensional material; allowing the first layer of the at least one second three-dimensional material to at least partially absorb into a second fabric portion of the second printing substrate of the article of footwear; curing the first layer of the at least one second three-dimensional material; printing at least one additional layer of the at least one second three-dimensional material on the cured first layer of the at least one second three-dimensional material; and curing the at least one additional layer of the at least one second three-dimensional material.

6. The method according to claim 4, wherein the printed first layer of the first three-dimensional material has a first modulus of elasticity and the at least one additional layer of the at least one first three-dimensional material has a second modulus of elasticity different than the first modulus.

7. The method according to claim 5, wherein the first layer of the at least one second three-dimensional material has a third modulus of elasticity and the at least one additional layer of the at least one second three-dimensional material has a fourth modulus of elasticity different than the third modulus.

8. The method according to claim 4, wherein the first layer of the at least one first three-dimensional material has a first color and the at least one additional layer of the at least one first three-dimensional material has a second color.

9. The method according to claim 5, wherein the first layer of the at least one second three-dimensional material has a third color and the at least one additional layer of the at least one second three-dimensional material has a fourth color.

10. The method according to claim 1, wherein the first fabric portion of the article of apparel comprises at least one of a textile, a natural fabric, a synthetic fabric, a knit, a woven material, a nonwoven material, a mesh, a leather, a synthetic leather, a polymer, a rubber, and a foam.

11. The method according to claim 3, wherein each of the first fabric portion and the second fabric portion of the article of apparel comprises at least one of a textile, a natural fabric, a synthetic fabric, a knit, a woven material, a nonwoven material, a mesh, a leather, a synthetic leather, a polymer, a rubber, and a foam.

12. The method according to claim 1, wherein the second printing substrate of the article of footwear has at least one irregular surface having an irregular surface topology.

13. The method according to claim 12, wherein printing the at least one second three-dimensional material comprises compensating for irregularities in the at least one irregular surface by at least one of adjusting a distance between a printhead and the at least one irregular surface and adjusting at least one of size, rate, and distribution of material ejected from the printhead.

14. The method according to claim 1, wherein the removing the article of footwear does not require a release layer.

15. The method according to claim 1, wherein the at least one first three-dimensional material and the at least one second three-dimensional material each comprises at least one of an ink, a resin, an acrylic, a polymer, a thermoplastic material, a thermosetting material, and a light-curable material.

16. The method according to claim 1, wherein the at least one first three-dimensional material further comprises a first filler material, and the at least one second three-dimensional material further comprises a second filler material.

17. The method according to claim 1, wherein the at least one first three-dimensional material is adhered or bonded to the first fabric portion of the article of footwear.

18. A method of fabricating an article of footwear, comprising: providing at least one first three-dimensional pattern for printing onto an upper and at least one second three-dimensional pattern for printing a sole to a print server; positioning at least a first fabric portion of an upper on a tray in a three-dimensional printing system to provide a first printing substrate; printing at least one first three-dimensional material directly onto the first fabric portion of the upper based on at least one first three-dimensional pattern provided to the print server; curing the at least one first three-dimensional printed material; removing the upper from the three-dimensional printing system; forming the upper into a secondary shape; placing the formed upper on a holder; positioning the holder on the tray, the holder being positioned on the tray to present a sole surface portion of the formed upper as a second printing substrate for printing the sole; printing the sole with at least one second three-dimensional material directly onto the sole surface portion of the formed upper based on the at least one second three-dimensional pattern provided to the print server; curing the at least one second three-dimensional material; removing the holder from the three-dimensional printing system; and removing the fabricated article of footwear from the holder, wherein the first and second fabric printing substrates are part of the article of footwear.

19. The method according to claim 18, wherein the printing of the at least one first three-dimensional material onto the first fabric portion comprises printing at least one layer of the at least one three-dimensional material, and wherein the printing of the at least one second three-dimensional material onto the sole surface portion comprises printing at least one layer of the second three-dimensional material.

20. The method according to claim 18, wherein the printing of the at least one first three-dimensional material and at least one second three-dimensional material comprises: allowing the at least one first three-dimensional material to at least partially absorb into the first fabric portion of the article of footwear prior to the curing of the at least one first three-dimensional material; and allowing the at least one second three-dimensional material to at least partially absorb into the sole surface portion of the article of footwear prior to the curing of the at least one second three-dimensional material.

21. The method according to claim 18, wherein the printing onto the first fabric portion of the upper further comprises: printing a first layer of the at least one first three-dimensional material; allowing the first layer of the at least one first three-dimensional material to at least partially absorb into the first fabric portion of the upper; curing the first layer of the at least one first three-dimensional material; printing at least one additional layer of the at least one first three-dimensional material on the cured first layer of the at least one first three-dimensional material; and curing the at least one additional layer of the at least one first three-dimensional material.

22. The method according to claim 21, wherein the printing the sole with at the least one second three-dimensional material directly onto the sole surface portion of the formed upper further comprises: printing a first layer of the at least one second three-dimensional material; allowing the first layer of the at least one second three-dimensional material to at least partially absorb into the sole surface portion of the formed upper; curing the first layer of the at least one second three-dimensional material; printing at least one additional layer of the at least one second three-dimensional material on the cured first layer of the at least one second three-dimensional material; and curing the at least one additional layer of the at least one second three-dimensional material.

23. The method according to claim 21, wherein the first layer of the at least one first three-dimensional material has a first modulus of elasticity and the at least one additional layer of the at least one first three-dimensional material has a second modulus of elasticity different than the first modulus.

24. The method according to claim 22, wherein the first layer of the at least one second three-dimensional material has a third modulus of elasticity and the at least one additional layer of the at least one second three-dimensional material has a fourth modulus of elasticity different than the third modulus.

25. The method according to claim 18, wherein each of the first fabric portion and the sole surface portion of the upper comprises at least one of a textile, a natural fabric, a synthetic fabric, a knit, a woven material, a nonwoven material, a mesh, a leather, a synthetic leather, a polymer, a rubber, and a foam.

26. The method according to claim 18, wherein the at least one first three-dimensional material and the at least one second three-dimensional material each comprises at least one of an ink, a resin, an acrylic, a polymer, a thermoplastic material, a thermosetting material, and a light-curable material.

27. The method according to claim 18, wherein the holder comprises a last.

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Claim Tree

  • 1
    1. A method of three-dimensional printing and assembly of an article of footwear, comprising:
    • positioning a side of an upper of the article of footwear on a tray in a three-dimensional printing system to provide a first printing substrate, the side of the upper including at least a first fabric portion
    • printing at least one first three-dimensional material directly onto the first printing substrate, including the first fabric portion, based on at least one first three-dimensional pattern
    • curing the at least one first three-dimensional material
    • forming a secondary shape with the upper
    • positioning at least a portion of a bottom of the secondary shape on the tray to provide a second printing substrate for printing a sole of the article of footwear
    • printing at least one second three-dimensional material directly onto the second printing substrate of the article based on at least one second three-dimensional pattern to form the sole of the article of footwear
    • curing the at least one second three-dimensional material
    • and removing the article of footwear from the three-dimensional printing system, wherein the first and second printing substrates are part of the article of footwear.
    • 2. The method according to claim 1, wherein
      • the printing of the at least one first three-dimensional onto the first printing substrate comprises
    • 3. The method according to claim 1, wherein
      • the printing of the at least one first three-dimensional material and the at least one second three-dimensional material comprises:
    • 4. The method according to claim 1, wherein
      • the printing at least one first three-dimensional material onto the first printing substrate further comprises:
    • 5. The method according to claim 1, wherein
      • the printing at least one second three-dimensional material onto the second printing substrate further comprises:
    • 10. The method according to claim 1, wherein
      • the first fabric portion of the article of apparel comprises
    • 12. The method according to claim 1, wherein
      • the second printing substrate of the article of footwear has at least one irregular surface having
    • 14. The method according to claim 1, wherein
      • the removing the article of footwear does not require a release layer.
    • 15. The method according to claim 1, wherein
      • the at least one first three-dimensional material and the at least one second three-dimensional material each comprises
    • 16. The method according to claim 1, wherein
      • the at least one first three-dimensional material further comprises
    • 17. The method according to claim 1, wherein
      • the at least one first three-dimensional material is adhered or bonded to the first fabric portion of the article of footwear.
  • 18
    18. A method of fabricating an article of footwear, comprising:
    • providing at least one first three-dimensional pattern for printing onto an upper and at least one second three-dimensional pattern for printing a sole to a print server
    • positioning at least a first fabric portion of an upper on a tray in a three-dimensional printing system to provide a first printing substrate
    • printing at least one first three-dimensional material directly onto the first fabric portion of the upper based on at least one first three-dimensional pattern provided to the print server
    • curing the at least one first three-dimensional printed material
    • removing the upper from the three-dimensional printing system
    • forming the upper into a secondary shape
    • placing the formed upper on a holder
    • positioning the holder on the tray, the holder being positioned on the tray to present a sole surface portion of the formed upper as a second printing substrate for printing the sole
    • printing the sole with at least one second three-dimensional material directly onto the sole surface portion of the formed upper based on the at least one second three-dimensional pattern provided to the print server
    • curing the at least one second three-dimensional material
    • removing the holder from the three-dimensional printing system
    • and removing the fabricated article of footwear from the holder, wherein the first and second fabric printing substrates are part of the article of footwear.
    • 19. The method according to claim 18, wherein
      • the printing of the at least one first three-dimensional material onto the first fabric portion comprises
    • 20. The method according to claim 18, wherein
      • the printing of the at least one first three-dimensional material and at least one second three-dimensional material comprises:
    • 21. The method according to claim 18, wherein
      • the printing onto the first fabric portion of the upper further comprises:
    • 25. The method according to claim 18, wherein
      • each of the first fabric portion and the sole surface portion of the upper comprises
    • 26. The method according to claim 18, wherein
      • the at least one first three-dimensional material and the at least one second three-dimensional material each comprises
    • 27. The method according to claim 18, wherein
      • the holder comprises
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Description

FIELD

This disclosure relates generally to the field of three-dimensional (“3D”) printing onto an article of apparel, footwear, or equipment, and more specifically to methods and systems for apparel assembly using 3D printing directly onto fabric apparel materials.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The accompanying drawings, which are incorporated in and constitute a part of this specification, illustrate embodiments and, together with the description, serve to explain the features, advantages, and principles of the embodiments disclosed throughout this disclosure. For illustration purposes, the following drawings may not be to scale. Moreover, like reference numerals designate corresponding parts throughout the different views. In the drawings:

FIG. 1 shows an elevated view of an article of footwear consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 2 shows an elevated view of a top portion of an article of footwear consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 3 shows an elevated view of a medial side of an article of footwear consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 4 shows a perspective cutaway view of an article of footwear consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 5 shows an exploded perspective cutaway view of an article of footwear consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 6 shows a schematic view of a 3D printing system consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 7 shows a perspective view of a 3D printer with an upper portion of an article of footwear inserted therein, consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 8 shows a cross sectional view of a conventional 3D printed surface on a release layer over a substrate;

FIG. 9 shows a cross sectional view of a conventional 3D printed surface being removed from a release layer and substrate;

FIG. 10 shows a cross sectional view of a 3D printed material on an upper portion of an article of footwear, consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 11 shows a cross sectional view of a 3D printed material on an upper portion of an article of footwear being removed from a tray, consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 12 shows a perspective view of a 3D printed material on an upper portion of an article of footwear, consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 13 shows a perspective view of a 3D printed material on an upper portion of an article of footwear being removed from a tray, consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 14 shows a cross sectional view of a first layer of 3D printed material on an upper portion of an article of footwear and a curing process, consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 15 shows a cross sectional view of a second layer of 3D printed material on an upper portion of an article of footwear and a curing process, consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 16 shows a cross sectional view of a third layer of 3D printed material on an upper portion of an article of footwear and a curing process, consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 17 shows a cross sectional view of a fourth layer of 3D printed material on an upper portion of an article of footwear and a curing process, consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 18 shows an overhead view of an upper portion of an article of footwear placed on a tray and prior to 3D printing, consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 19 shows a cross sectional view of part of the upper portion of an article of footwear shown in FIG. 18 placed on a tray and prior to 3D printing, consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 20 shows an overhead view of an upper portion of an article of footwear placed on a tray and post 3D printing, consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 21 shows a cross sectional view of part of the upper portion of an article of footwear shown in FIG. 20 placed on a tray and post 3D printing, consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 22 shows an elevated view of an article of footwear after printing of the 3D sole structure on a bottom surface of the upper, consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 23 shows a schematic view of a 3D printing system and method consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 24 shows a process for manufacturing an article of footwear, consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 25 shows a first part of the process shown in FIG. 24 for manufacturing an article of footwear, consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 26 shows a second part of the process shown in FIG. 24 for manufacturing an article of footwear, consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 27 shows an overhead view of an upper portion of an article of footwear after printing and prior to completion of footwear assembly consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 28 shows a perspective view of an upper portion of an article of footwear after printing and during formation into a secondary shape consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 29 shows a perspective view of an upper portion of an article of footwear after formation into a secondary shape consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 30 shows a perspective view of an upper portion of an article of footwear after printing and during formation into a secondary shape consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 31 shows a perspective view of an upper portion of an article of footwear after formation into a secondary shape consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 32 shows a perspective view of a bottom portion of an upper portion of an article of footwear after formation into a secondary shape and during preparation for additional printing consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 33 shows a perspective view of a bottom portion of an upper portion of an article of footwear after formation into a secondary shape and during preparation for additional printing consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 34 shows a cross sectional view of a first layer of 3D printed material on a sole portion of an article of footwear and a curing process, consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 35 shows a cross sectional view of a second layer of 3D printed material on a sole portion of an article of footwear and a curing process, consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 36 shows a cross sectional view of a third layer of 3D printed material on a sole portion of an article of footwear and a curing process, consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 37 shows a cross sectional view of a fourth layer of 3D printed material on a sole portion of an article of footwear and a curing process, consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 38 shows a perspective view of a sole portion of an article of footwear after 3D printing consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 39 shows a perspective view of an exemplary sole portion of an article of footwear after 3D printing onto an upper portion consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 40 shows a perspective view of an upper portion of an article of footwear after 3D printing, consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 41 shows an elevated view of a completed article of footwear after 3D printing of the sole portion and upper portion, consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 42 shows an elevated view of a top portion of the article of footwear shown in FIG. 41, consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 43 shows an elevated view of a medial side of the article of footwear shown in FIG. 41, consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure;

FIG. 44 shows an elevated view of a rear portion of the article of footwear shown in FIG. 41, consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure; and

FIG. 45 shows and elevated view of a bottom portion of the article of footwear shown in FIG. 41, consistent with an embodiment of the disclosure.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

The following discussion and accompanying figures disclose methods and systems for 3D printing and assembly of an article of footwear having an upper that includes 3D printing directly onto at least a first portion of an upper material and a sole formed by 3D printing onto at least a second portion of the upper material. In particular, an exemplary method is disclosed for 3D printing directly onto a fabric material, which allows building of a structure on the fabric for use in apparel applications. The disclosed methods and systems may use any suitable 3D printing system.

As used throughout this disclosure, the terms “three-dimensional printing system,”“three-dimensional printer,”“3D printing system,” and “3D printer” refer to any known 3D printing system or printer. Contrary to known 3D printing methods, however, the disclosed methods and systems accomplish 3D printing directly onto any surface of a textile, a natural fabric, a synthetic fabric, a knit, a woven material, a nonwoven material, a mesh, a leather, a synthetic leather, a polymer, a rubber, and a foam, or any combination of them, without the need for a release layer interposed between a substrate and the bottom of the printed material, and without the need for a perfectly or near-perfectly flat substrate surface on which to print. For example, the disclosed methods may include printing a resin, acrylic, or ink material onto a fabric, for example a knit material, where the material is adhered/bonded to the fabric and where the material does not generally delaminate when flexed, rolled, worked, or subject to additional assembly processes/steps. As used throughout this disclosure, the term “fabric” may be used to refer generally to materials chosen from any textile, natural fabric, synthetic fabric, knit, woven material, nonwoven material, mesh, leather, synthetic leather, polymers, rubbers, and foam. Also as used throughout this disclosure, the terms “printing” or “printed,” and “depositing” or “deposited,” are each used synonymously, and are intended to refer to the association of a material from a source of the material to a receiving surface or object.

Consistent with an embodiment, an exemplary article of footwear is disclosed as having a general configuration suitable for walking or running. As used throughout this disclosure, the terms “article of footwear” and “footwear” include any footwear and any materials associated with footwear, including an upper, and may also be applied to a variety of athletic footwear types, including baseball shoes, basketball shoes, cross-training shoes, cycling shoes, football shoes, tennis shoes, soccer shoes, and hiking boots, for example. As used throughout this disclosure, the terms “article of footwear” and “footwear” also include footwear types that are generally considered to be nonathletic, formal, or decorative, including dress shoes, loafers, sandals, slippers, boat shoes, and work boots. Disclosed embodiments apply, therefore, to any footwear type.

While the disclosed embodiments are described in the context of footwear, the disclosed embodiments may further be equally applied to any article of clothing, apparel, or equipment that includes 3D printing. For example, the disclosed embodiments may be applied hats, caps, shirts, jerseys, jackets, socks, shorts, pants, undergarments, athletic support garments, gloves, wrist/arm bands, sleeves, headbands, any knit material, any woven material, any nonwoven material, sports equipment, etc. Thus, as used throughout this disclosure, the term “article of apparel” may refer to any apparel or clothing, including any article of footwear, as well as hats, caps, shirts, jerseys, jackets, socks, shorts, pants, undergarments, athletic support garments, gloves, wrist/arm bands, sleeves, headbands, any knit material, any woven material, any nonwoven material, etc. As used throughout this disclosure, the terms “article of apparel,”“apparel,”“article of footwear,” and “footwear” may also refer to a textile, a natural fabric, a synthetic fabric, a knit, a woven material, a nonwoven material, a mesh, a leather, a synthetic leather, a polymer, a rubber, and a foam. For example, materials used in footwear formation are disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 5,709,954, which is incorporated by reference.

In accordance with the systems and methods described throughout this disclosure, there is provided a method of three-dimensional printing and assembly of an article of apparel, comprising: designing at least one first three-dimensional pattern and at least one second three-dimensional pattern for printing onto the article; positioning a first portion of the article on a tray in a three dimensional printing system, the first portion being positioned substantially flat on the tray; printing at least one first three-dimensional material directly onto the first portion of the article using the designed at least one first three-dimensional pattern; curing the at least one first three-dimensional printed material; positioning a second portion of the article on the tray, the second portion being positioned substantially flat on the tray; printing at least one second three-dimensional material directly onto the second portion of the article using the designed at least one second three dimensional pattern; curing the at least one second three-dimensional printed material; and removing the article from the three-dimensional printing system.

In accordance with the systems and methods described throughout this disclosure, there is also provided a method of fabricating an article of footwear, comprising: designing at least one first three-dimensional pattern for printing onto an upper and at least one second three-dimensional pattern for printing a sole; providing the at least one first three-dimensional pattern and the at least one second three-dimensional pattern to a print server; positioning at least a first portion of the upper on a tray in a three dimensional printing system, the first portion of the upper being positioned substantially flat on the tray; aligning the first portion of the upper on the tray with the at least one first three dimensional pattern; printing at least one first three-dimensional material directly onto the first portion of the upper using the designed at least one first three-dimensional pattern on the print server and the three-dimensional printing system; curing the at least one first three-dimensional printed material; removing the upper from the three-dimensional printing system; forming the upper into a secondary shape; placing the formed upper on a holder; positioning the holder on the tray, the holder being positioned on the tray to present a sole surface portion of the formed upper for printing the sole; aligning the holder on the tray with the at least one second three dimensional pattern; printing the sole with at least one second three-dimensional material directly onto the sole surface portion of the formed upper using the designed at least one second three dimensional pattern on the print server and the three-dimensional printing system; curing the at least one second three-dimensional printed material; removing the holder from the three-dimensional printing system; and removing the fabricated article of footwear from the holder.

In accordance with the systems and methods described throughout this disclosure, there is provided a system for three-dimensional printing directly onto multiple surfaces of a fabric material, comprising: a first nontransitory computer-readable medium encoded with a first computer program product loadable into a first memory of a first computer and including first software code portions for storing a three-dimensional pattern for printing directly onto the upper; a print server; a switching device; and a three-dimensional printer device, wherein the print server is in direct communication with the three dimensional printer device and the switching device, wherein the switching device is in direct communication with the three dimensional printer device and the print server, wherein the first nontransitory computer readable medium is in direct communication with the switch, wherein the print server comprises a second nontransitory computer-readable medium encoded with a second computer program product loadable into a second memory of a second computer and including second software code portions for instructing the three-dimensional printing device to print directly onto the upper through a first sequence of printing steps and a second sequence of printing steps; wherein the three dimensional printer device comprises a tray receiving at least a first surface of the fabric material and at least a second surface of the fabric material, at least one printing head for printing onto a first portion of the upper in the first sequence and onto a second portion of the upper in the second sequence, and at least one ultraviolet light for curing material printed onto the upper in the first and second sequences, and wherein the three dimensional printing system does not require a substantially flat surface for printing.

Additional features and advantages will be set forth in part in the description that follows, being apparent from the description or learned by practice of embodiments. Both the foregoing description and the following description are exemplary and explanatory, and are intended to provide further explanation of the embodiments as claimed.

An article of footwear generally includes two primary elements: an upper and a sole structure. The upper may be formed from a plurality of material elements (e.g., one or more layers of a textile, a natural fabric, a synthetic fabric, a knit, a woven material, a nonwoven material, a mesh, a leather, a synthetic leather, a polymer, a rubber, and a foam, etc.) stitched or adhesively bonded together to form a void on the interior of the footwear for comfortably and securely receiving a foot. More particularly, the upper forms a structure that extends over instep and toe areas of the foot, along medial and lateral sides of the foot, and around a heel area of the foot. The upper may also incorporate a lacing system to adjust fit of the footwear, as well as permitting entry and removal of the foot from the void within the upper. In addition, the upper may include a tongue that extends under the lacing system to enhance adjustability and comfort of the footwear, and the upper may incorporate a heel counter. For example, the upper may be a high tensile strength knit or mesh sockfit upper.

Various material elements forming the upper may impart different properties to different areas of the upper. For example, textile elements may provide breathability and may absorb moisture from the foot, foam layers may compress to impart comfort, and leather may impart durability and wear-resistance. Consistent with an embodiment, therefore, 3D printed materials disposed on the upper during assembly of an article of footwear may thus be used to customize the properties of the upper and hence article of footwear. As disclosed throughout this disclosure, for example, 3D printed materials may be disposed on the upper to impart customized material properties such as increased strength, rigidity, support, flexibility, abrasion resistance, or variations thereof, based on desired material properties for specific portions of the upper and the article of footwear as a whole.

A sole structure is secured to a lower portion of the upper so as to be positioned between the foot and the ground. In athletic footwear, for example, the sole structure includes a midsole and an outsole. The midsole may be formed from a polymer foam material that attenuates ground reaction forces (i.e., provides cushioning) during walking, running, and other ambulatory activities. The midsole may also include cushions, such as fluid-filled chambers, plates, moderators, or other elements that further attenuate forces, enhance stability, or influence the motions of the foot, for example. The outsole forms a ground-contacting element of the footwear and is usually fashioned from a durable and wear-resistant rubber material that includes texturing to impart traction. The sole structure may also include a sockliner positioned within the upper and proximal to a lower surface of the foot to enhance footwear comfort.

Consistent with an embodiment, an article of footwear 10, throughout this disclosure referred to simply as footwear 10, is depicted in FIGS. 1-3 as including an upper 20 and a sole structure 30. For reference purposes, footwear 10 may be divided into three general regions: a forefoot region 11, a midfoot region 12, and a heel region 13. Footwear 10 also includes a lateral side 14 and a medial side 15. Forefoot region 11 generally includes portions of footwear 10 corresponding with the toes and the joints connecting the metatarsals with the phalanges. Midfoot region 12 generally includes portions of footwear 10 corresponding with the arch area of the foot, and heel region 13 corresponds with rear portions of the foot, including the calcaneus bone. Lateral side 14 and medial side 15 extend through each of forefoot region 11, midfoot region 12, and heel region 13 (as seen in FIG. 3) and correspond with opposite sides of footwear 10 that are separated by a lace region 16, which extends along a length of footwear 10. Forefoot region 11, midfoot region 12, heel region 13, lateral side 14, and medial side 15 are not intended to demarcate precise areas of footwear 10. Rather, they are intended to represent general areas of footwear 10 to aid in this description. In addition to footwear 10, forefoot region 11, midfoot region 12, heel region 13, lateral side 14, and medial side 15 may also be applied to upper 20, sole structure 30, and individual elements thereof.

Consistent with an embodiment, sole structure 30 is printed directly onto upper 20 and extends between the foot and the ground when footwear 10 is worn. The primary elements of sole structure 30 are a midsole 31, and one or more outsole regions 32. Footwear 10 optionally includes a sockliner 33, which may be part of upper 20. A lower surface of upper 20 is secured to midsole 31, and midsole 31 may be formed from a printed and compressible polymer foam element (e.g., a polyurethane or ethylvinylacetate foam) that attenuates ground reaction forces (i.e., provides cushioning) when compressed between the foot and the ground during walking, running, or other ambulatory activities. In further configurations, printed midsole 31 may incorporate fluid-filled chambers, plates, moderators, or other elements that further attenuate forces, enhance stability, or influence the motions of the foot, or printed midsole 31 may be primarily formed from a fluid-filled chamber. Outsole 32 is also printed onto a lower surface of midsole 31 and may be printed to form a wear-resistant material (e.g., a polymer or a rubber) that is textured to impart traction and provide durability. Although this configuration for sole structure 30 provides an example of a sole structure that may be used in connection with upper 20, a variety of other conventional or nonconventional configurations for sole structure 30 may also be utilized. Accordingly, the structure and features of sole structure 30 or any sole structure utilized with upper 20 may vary considerably.

Upper 20 may be stitched or bonded together to form a void within footwear 10 for receiving and securing a foot relative to sole structure 30. The void is shaped to accommodate the foot and extends along the lateral side of the foot, along the medial side of the foot, over the foot, around the heel, and under the foot. Access to the void is provided by an ankle opening 50 located in at least heel region 13.

Lace 40 may extend through various lace apertures 41 and permits the wearer to modify dimensions of upper 20 to accommodate the proportions of the foot. More particularly, lace 40 may permit the wearer to tighten upper 20 around the foot, and lace 40 may permit the wearer to loosen upper 20 to facilitate entry and removal of the foot from the void (i.e., through ankle opening 50). As an alternative to lace apertures 41, upper 20 may include other lace-receiving elements, such as loops, eyelets, and D-rings. In addition, upper 20 may include a tongue 60 that extends between ankle opening 50 and lace 40 to enhance the comfort and performance of footwear 10. In some configurations, upper 20 may incorporate a heel counter that limits heel movement in heel region 13 or a wear-resistant toe guard located in forefoot region 11. In some cases, upper 20 may include a plurality of lace apertures 41, including evenly spaced apertures on lateral side 14 of lace region 16 extending from ankle opening 50 to forefoot region 11. Similarly, upper 20 may include a symmetrical, evenly spaced group of lace apertures 41 on medial side 14 of lace region 16. Lace 40 may be interwoven though apertures 41 in any suitable configuration.

Still referring to FIGS. 1-3, upper 20 includes regions or patterns of printed material 70. Consistent with an embodiment, printed material 70 may be formed by direct 3D printing and curing of material onto upper 20 in any desired pattern, shape, thickness, or coverage. Printing and curing of printed material 70 will be described in greater detail below. As shown in FIGS. 1-3, printed material 70 is depicted in an exemplary manner as a pattern of interconnected strips and loops of predetermined thickness attached to various portions of upper 20 to provide structural support and/or aesthetic improvements to footwear 10. Various portions of printed material 70 may be interconnected, but may also not be interconnected. Consistent with an embodiment, printed material 70 is adhered or otherwise bonded to upper 20, may be at least partially absorbed into a surface of upper 20, and may be formed in one or more contiguous or disjointed layers on upper 20. Each of these features will be described in greater detail below.

Consistent with an embodiment, printed material 70, also referred to herein as “three-dimensional material” and “three-dimensional printed material,” may be made of a material that includes an ink, a resin, an acrylic, a polymer, a thermoplastic material, a thermosetting material, a light-curable material, or combinations thereof. Also consistent with an embodiment, printed material 70 may be formed from printing of one or more layers in a sequence of depositions of material to any desired thickness, and may also include a filler material to impart a strengthening or aesthetic aspect to printed material 70. For example, the filler material may be a powdered material or dye designed to impart desired color or color patterns or transitions, metallic or plastic particles or shavings, or any other powdered mineral, metal, or plastic, and may customize the hardness, strength, or elasticity of printed 70 depending on desired properties. Filler material may be premixed with printed material 70 prior to printing, or may be mixed with printed material 70 during printing onto upper 20. Consistent with an embodiment, printed material 70 may thus be a composite material.

FIGS. 4 and 5 show a perspective cutaway view and exploded perspective cutaway view, respectfully, of section 4 of footwear 10 shown in FIG. 3, including printed sole structure 30 comprising outsole 32, midsole 31, and optional sockliner 33. It will be appreciated that some illustrated portions of printed sole structure 30 may be optional, and certain portions may be omitted in some embodiments. Alternatively, sole structure 30 may optionally comprise additional printed layers. For example, sole structure 30 may additionally comprise one or more layers of material (not shown) printed in accordance with disclosed embodiments. Such materials may comprise, for example, one or more printed polyurethane layers to form an enclosed region of air or other gas or fluid in one or more regions of sole structure 30, thus providing an enclosed cushioning region (not shown) in footwear 10.

As shown in FIGS. 4 and 5, footwear 10 also includes upper 20 and tongue 60, upper 20 being attached to printed sole structure 30 as previously described. Consistent with an embodiment, printed material 70 may be adhered or bonded on or in an exterior surface of upper 20. It will be appreciated that some illustrated elements of printed material 70 may vary in appearance. Alternatively, other additional elements may be included. For example, printed material 70 may comprise one or more additional layers to constitute material of any desired thickness, which will be described in greater detail below.

A method for making an article of apparel or footwear may include provisions for direct 3D printing onto the article. Consistent with an embodiment, FIG. 6 shows an exemplary system 80 for 3D printing directly onto a fabric upper, such as, for example, upper 20 and sole structure 30 shown in any of FIGS. 1-5. System 80 may include 3D printer device 81, computer/workstation 82, print server 83, and optional switching device 84. 3D printer device 81, computer 82, print server 83, and switching device 84 may be in communication and/or networked as shown in FIG. 6. One of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that portions of system 80 may be omitted in some embodiments.

Still referring to FIG. 6, computer 82 may be in direct communication with 3D printer device 81 and print server 83 via switching device 84. For example, print server 83 may be in direct communication with 3D printer device 81 and switching device 84, and switching device 84 may likewise be in direct communication with 3D printer device 81 and print server 83. Print server 83 may include a second nontransitory computer-readable medium encoded with a second computer program product loadable into a memory of print server 83 and include second software code portions for instructing 3D printer device 81 to print directly onto upper 20 through a sequence of printing steps to produce a 3D result of printed material 70 from CAD representation 89 on computer 82. Consistent with an embodiment, one of ordinary skill will understand that system 80 may require both computer 82 and print server 83, or may require just one of computer 82 and print server 83.

Consistent with an embodiment, computer 82 may comprise a central processing device 85, viewing interface 86 (e.g., a monitor or screen), input devices 87 and 88 (e.g., keyboard and mouse), and software for designing a computer-aided design (“CAD”) representation 89 of a printing output designed for upper 20. The term “computer,” as used throughout the disclosure, means a single computer, the partial computing resources of a computer, or two or more computers communicating with each other. Computer 82 may thus include a first nontransitory computer-readable medium in central processing device 85 encoded with a first computer program product loadable into a memory of computer 82 and include first software code portions for storing a 3D pattern for printing directly onto upper 20. Consistent with an embodiment, computer 82 may be used to prepare a CAD representation 89 for any desired printed pattern or chemistry for printed material 70 on upper 20.

As shown in FIG. 7, 3D printer device 81 comprises a tray 90 for receiving upper 20 for printing. 3D printer device 81 also may comprise at least one printhead 92, printhead maneuverability assembly 94, and lid 96. Printing material to be ejected from at least one printhead 92 may be stored or supplied in compartment 98. Consistent with an embodiment, FIG. 7 illustrates a completed pattern of printed material 70 printed on upper 20, in accordance with exemplary CAD representation 89 shown in FIG. 6, and implemented by print server 83 and/or computer 82. Printhead 92 may also include, for example, a UV light producing mechanism for curing printed material 70 upon printing by printhead 92 as printhead 92 is moved over upper 20 via printhead maneuverability assembly 94. Upon completion of printing onto upper 20, lid 96 may be opened and upper 20 may be removed from 3D printer device 81.

Contrary to what is known in the art, embodiments of the disclosed methods do not require a hydrophobic or otherwise non-wetting surface on which to print. One of ordinary skill in the art will understand that known 3D printing systems require a hydrophobic sheet or release layer on a tray or substrate prior to printing/building of a 3D object. Such a hydrophobic sheet or release layer may be preexisting on the tray or substrate, or may be a printed hydrophobic material provided by the 3D printing system itself. In known 3D printing systems, the required hydrophobic sheet or release layer prevents wetting of printed material onto the tray or substrate during printing/building of the 3D object and thus permits removal of the 3D object from the tray or substrate upon completion of printing. Consistent with an embodiment, however, 3D printer device 81 does not require a hydrophobic or otherwise non-wetting surface on which to print, because 3D printing is accomplished directly onto a material (e.g., upper 20) placed on tray 90. Upper 20, if an exemplary fabric material, may also be hydrophilic. That is, wetting and adhering/bonding/curing of printed material 70 to upper 20 is desirable. After printing, upper 20 may be removed from tray 90 with printed material 70 adhered/bonded/cured to upper 20, without concern for adhesion of upper 20 or printed material 70 to tray 90.

Contrary to what is known in the art, embodiments of the disclosed methods also do not require a perfectly or near-perfectly flat substrate surface on which to print. One of ordinary skill in the art will understand that known 3D printing systems require a perfectly or near-perfectly flat substrate surface on which to print in order to allow the systems to print/build 3D objects on a planar surface. Consistent with an embodiment, however, upper 20—even if laid substantially flat inside 3D printer device 81 on tray 90—may still have an uneven surface due to either the knit or weave of its fabric, or irregular surface topology in general due to the need for subsequent working and assembly steps. Consistent with an embodiment, 3D printer device 81 may account for surface irregularities of upper 20, and compensate for any such irregularities by adjusting one or more of the distance between printhead 92 and upper 20, and the size/rate/distribution of material ejected from printhead 92 during printing onto upper 20. That is, printing may occur directly onto a surface of upper 20, such that upper 20 may be subsequently removed from 3D printer device 81 without any concern for surface irregularities in upper 20.

For example, with reference to FIGS. 8 and 9, known 3D printing techniques require printing on flat substrate 100 having a release layer 102 placed/formed/printed thereon. To prevent printed object 104 from adhering to substrate 100, release layer 102 is interspersed therebetween. Release layer 102 could be a wax paper, for example, or a layer of hydrophobic printed material to facilitate removal of printed object 104 from substrate 100. As shown in FIG. 9, removal of printed material 104 may thus be accomplished by removing release layer 102 from substrate 100 as shown by motion 106, followed by removal of printed material 104 from release layer 102 as shown by motion 108. Thus, known 3D printing techniques require both a flat surface on which to print, and a release layer to prevent adhesion of the printed material to the substrate after printing is complete.

Contrary to what is known in the art, FIGS. 10 and 11, and likewise 12 and 13, illustrate a portion of a 3D printing technique consistent with an embodiment. For example, FIGS. 10 and 11 show a cross sectional view of upper 20 placed on tray 90. Upper 20 is depicted as comprising threads 22, which may be placed in different directions, although threads 22 could be configured in any manner, such as any density or thickness, to form upper 20. Printed material 70 may comprise one or more layers of material sequentially printed onto upper 20. Consistent with an embodiment, printed material 70 may be at least partially absorbed into a surface region 110 of upper 20 after printing and prior to curing. Partial absorption in surface region 110 of printed material 70 may aid in adhesion/bonding of printed material 70 to upper 20. FIGS. 12 and 13 likewise illustrate a perspective view of upper 20 placed on tray 90 and having printed material 70 printed thereon.

As shown in FIGS. 11 and 13, and consistent with an embodiment, removal of upper 20 containing printed material 70 may be accomplished by simply lifting upper 20 away from tray 90, as shown by motion 115. Because printed material 70 is printed/deposited onto upper 20, and may be at least partially absorbed into a surface region 110, upper 20 may thus serve as a “substrate” such that there is no need for a release layer interspersed between upper 20 and printed material 70, or between tray 90 and upper 20. That is, wetting and adhering/bonding/curing of printed material 70 to upper 20 is desirable and accomplished. After printing, upper 20 may be removed from tray 90 with printed material 70 adhered/bonded/cured to upper 20, and without concern for adhesion of upper 20 or printed material 70 to tray 90. Consistent with an embodiment, a release layer may be optionally used, however unlikely, for example if upper 20 is so thin or contains a particularly low density of threads 22 such that portions of printed material 70 might pass between individual threads 22 of upper 20 and directly contact tray 90.

Consistent with an embodiment, FIGS. 14-17 illustrate cross sectional views of a printing sequence of multiple 3D layers of printed material 70 on upper 20. For example, FIG. 14 illustrates first layer 71 of printed material 70 deposited onto upper 20. Printed material 70 may be ejected or otherwise emitted from printhead 120 via nozzle 122 in the form of droplets 124. One of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that the form of droplets 124 may vary depending on the actual material ejected or otherwise emitted from nozzle 122. Droplets 124 may thus be any viscosity liquid material, or even a semi-solid material. Consistent with an embodiment, droplets 124 may be any desired material or phase of material suitable for use in 3D printing system 80.

Still referring to FIG. 14, in some embodiments, first layer 71 may be cured by UV light 126, however, in other embodiments, first layer 71 may be deposited without the need to cure the deposited material. Depending on the material used for printing of printed material 70, the material may be deposited in a liquid, semi-liquid, or otherwise gel-like or viscous phase. The material may then be solidified, at least partially, or cured, for various reasons, or to achieve desired properties, for example, to enhance durability, adhesion, or bonding of printed material 70 to upper 20. FIGS. 14-17 thus illustrate UV light 126 as an exemplary curing agent for use after deposition of printed material 70. One of ordinary skill in the art will understand that UV light 126 may be activated/applied either immediately after deposition of first layer 71, or at any desired time thereafter, depending on the nature of the desired patterns/chemistry/thickness of printed material 70. For simplicity, exemplary FIGS. 14-17 illustrate UV light 126 applied to cure printed material 70 after deposition of each layer. Depending on the material used for printing of printed material 70, one of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that curing of printed material 70 may be optional.

Still referring to FIG. 14, and consistent with an embodiment, printed material 70 may be at least partially absorbed into a surface region 110 of upper 20 prior to curing. For example, printed material 70 may be allowed to absorb into upper 20 for a predetermined amount of time after deposition and prior to curing with UV light 126. One of ordinary skill in the art will understand that such a predetermined amount of time will vary depending on the material used for printed material 70, as an absorption rate may be affected by the wettability or permeability of upper 20 to the deposited material, the viscosity or temperature of the material during printing, and the pressure or speed at which the material is ejected from printhead 92 onto upper 20. Consistent with an embodiment, therefore, such a predetermined amount of time after deposition and prior to optional curing with UV light 126 may be essentially immediately after deposition, or may be contemplated seconds or minutes thereafter.

Consistent with an embodiment, FIG. 15 illustrates second layer 72 of printed material 70 deposited onto layer 71, and cured by UV light 126. Second layer 72 may or may not be partially absorbed into a portion of first layer 71 prior to curing. Consistent with an embodiment, second layer 72 (and any subsequent layers) need not be deposited solely on the immediately underlying layer. One of ordinary skill in the art will understand that variations in printing patterns/thicknesses layers are contemplated. For example, second layer 72 may be deposited on any desired portion of upper 20, which may include partial or complete coverage of layer 71, or may include no coverage of layer 71. For example, if second layer 72 is partially deposited on layer 71 and partially deposited on upper 20, second layer 72 may or may not be partially absorbed into a portion of first layer 71 and a portion of upper 20 prior to optional curing.

Consistent with an embodiment, FIG. 16 illustrates a third layer 73 of printed material 70 deposited onto layer 72, and optionally cured by UV light 126. Third layer 73 may or may not be partially absorbed into at least a portion of second layer 72, at least a portion of first layer 71, and/or at least a portion of upper 20 if so printed, prior to curing. FIG. 17 likewise illustrates a fourth layer 74 of printed material 70 deposited onto layer 73, and optionally cured by UV light 126. Fourth layer 74 may or may not be partially absorbed into at least a portion of third layer 73, at least a portion of second layer 72, at least a portion of first layer 71, and/or at least a portion of upper 20 if so printed, prior to optional curing. Consistent with an embodiment, any number of layers may be printed to form printed material 70. Also consistent with an embodiment, upper 20 may be removed from tray 90 upon completion of printing, as shown in FIG. 13.

One of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that the printed layers forming printed material 70 may originate with different materials, colors, chemistries, optional fillers, etc., in order to fully customize the desired properties of upper 20. Printed material may also comprise layers having gradients of colors blended amongst the layers, or may comprise gradients of elasticity due to variations in material ejected from printhead 92 during printing of printed material 70. For example, printed material 70 may comprise layers of low elasticity printed material alternated or in conjunction with layers of high elasticity material. Consistent with an embodiment, exemplary moduli of elasticity for printed material 70 may range from about 10 MPa to about 4,000 MPa. Consistent with an embodiment, exemplary flexural strength for printed material 70 may range from about 35 MPa to about 300 MPa. Consistent with an embodiment, exemplary flexural moduli for printed material 70 may range from about 1,200 MPa to about 12,000 MPa. And, consistent with an embodiment, exemplary tensile strength for printed material 70 may range from about 0.5 MPa to about 150 MPa.

One of ordinary skill in the art will also recognize that the printed layers forming printed material 70 may comprise layers of material having at least a first color alternated or in conjunction with layers having at least a second color. For example, printed material 70 may be designed to impart high strength and low elasticity in heel region 13, while maintaining high elasticity and flexibility in toe region 11, and such properties may be accomplished by varying the properties of printed material 70 through printing of different combinations of materials and layers in any desired manner on any surface of upper 20.

Consistent with an embodiment, FIG. 18 illustrates an overhead view of upper 20 placed on tray 90 prior to 3D printing in system 80, and FIG. 19 illustrates a cross sectional view of the indicated portion of FIG. 14 showing upper 20 on tray 90. As shown in FIGS. 18 and 19, upper 20 may be positioned substantially flat on tray 90 in 3D printer 81. Upper 20 may further be positioned and aligned with fiduciary marks (not shown) to coordinate alignment with CAD representation 89 from computer 82 to facilitate accurate printing.

Consistent with an embodiment, FIG. 20 illustrates an overhead view of upper 20 placed on tray 90 after 3D printing in system 80, and FIG. 21 illustrates a cross sectional view of the indicated portion of FIG. 20 showing exemplary printed material 70 on upper 20. As shown in FIGS. 20 and 21, printed material 70 is deposited on upper 20 in any desired pattern or number of layers, in accordance with a desired CAD representation 89 from computer 82 in implementation of system 80 shown in FIG. 6. It will be recognized that printed material 70, shown in FIG. 21, may appear to be one continuous deposit of material as shown, although it may actually comprise multiple layers of sequentially printed material to form a desired printed pattern resulting in printed material 70 as shown.

Similarly, and consistent with an embodiment, FIG. 22 illustrates an elevated view of an article of footwear after printing of a 3D sole structure 30 onto a bottom surface of upper 20. As shown in FIG. 22, after printing onto upper 20, upper 20 may be further formed or manipulated and then placed on holder 91, where it may then be inserted, placed, or mounted in or on tray 90 prior to 3D printing in system 80. Printed sole material 79 is then deposited on upper 20 in any desired pattern or number of layers, in accordance with a desired CAD representation 89 from computer 82 in implementation of system 80 shown in FIG. 6. It will be recognized that printed sole material 79, shown in FIG. 22 and described in greater detail below with respect to FIGS. 26-39, may comprise multiple layers of sequentially printed material to form a desired printed pattern resulting in printed sole material 79 as shown.

For example, consistent with an embodiment, FIG. 23 illustrates an exemplary printing job 300 using system 80 to produce printed material 70 as shown and described with reference to FIGS. 20 and 21. Printing job 300 in FIG. 23 will be further described consistent with exemplary process flow 400 shown in FIG. 24.

FIG. 24 shows an exemplary process 400 for 3D printing onto upper 20, consistent with an embodiment. It will be appreciated that some or all steps in the process may be completed by a footwear, apparel, or equipment manufacturer or proprietor. In other cases, some steps could be accomplished by a manufacturer and other steps could be accomplished by another party including another manufacturer, proprietor, retailer, or any other entity. In some cases, one or more of the steps may be optional. In other cases, some steps may be completed in a different order.

As shown in FIG. 24, exemplary process 400 for 3D printing onto upper 20 begins with step 402. In step 402, computer 82 may be used to design a print pattern and form CAD representation 89 shown in FIG. 22. CAD representation 89 may be any desired printing job on any surface, such as upper 20. One of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that CAD representation 89, while shown as a design for printing material onto upper 20, may also be used to prepare a design for printing a sole structure onto a bottom surface of upper 20.

In step 404, 3D printing is accomplished onto at least a first surface of upper 20, followed by printing of a sole structure onto at least a second surface of upper 20 in step 406. Finally, in step 408, inspection or quality control is performed after completion of 3D printing.

As shown in FIG. 25, step 404 is explained in greater detail. In step 2502, computer 82 may be used to design a print pattern and form CAD representation 89 in a design for printing a sole structure onto a bottom surface of upper 20.

In step 2504, CAD representation 89 may be provided to print server 83 via optional switching device 84. Print server 83 may process CAD representation 89 into any number of slices 310 designed to accomplish 3D printing of print material 70 to any desired pattern or thickness in 3D printer 81. One of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that slices 310 may be representations designed to correspond to actual printed layers of material forming printed material 70, such as, for example, layers 71-74 shown and described with reference to FIGS. 14-17.

In step 2506, a fabric material such as upper 20 may be inserted in 3D printer device 81 on tray 90, as shown in FIG. 7. In step 2508, fabric material such as upper 20 may be positioned as described above with respect to FIG. 18 to facilitate accurate printing of any desired CAD representation 89 and any number of slices 310.

In step 2510, 3D printer 81 executes printing onto fabric material such as upper 20, using slices 310 provided by computer 82 and print server 83 as guides for printing and curing multiple layers of material to form printed material 70, such as those shown in FIGS. 10-13. As discussed above, printing may include printing a resin, acrylic, or ink material onto a fabric, where the material is adhered/bonded to the fabric and where the material does not generally delaminate when flexed, rolled, worked, or subject to additional assembly processes/steps. Consistent with step 2510, printed material 70 may be an ink, a resin, an acrylic, a polymer, a thermoplastic material, a thermosetting material, a light-curable material, or combinations thereof. Printed material 70 may also include a filler material (not shown) to impart a strengthening or aesthetic aspect to printed material 70 in one or more layers printed using slices 310. For example, the filler material incorporated in printed material 70 may be a powdered material or dye designed to impart desired color or color patterns or transitions, metallic or plastic particles or shavings, or any other powdered mineral, metal, or plastic. Consistent with an embodiment, printed material 70 printed in step 2510 may thus be a composite material.

In step 2512, progress of printing in 3D printer 81 may be periodically evaluated. For example, one may evaluate the progress of printing after several layers of material are printed and cured, as shown, for example, in FIGS. 14-17.

In step 2514, if desired printing is not complete, or if adjustments are desired during printing, fabric material such as upper 20 may be repositioned on tray 90 and realigned to facilitate printing of desired CAD representation 89 by proceeding back to step 2510.

In step 2516, if desired printing is complete, fabric material such as upper 20 may be inspected and removed from 3D printer 81 by lifting upper 20 off of tray 90 by motion 115 shown in FIGS. 11 and 13. In step 2516, desired printing may appear as shown in FIGS. 20 and 21, where printed material 70 if formed to any desired pattern and thickness, and may or may not be partially absorbed into a portion 110 of the surface of upper 20.

As shown in FIG. 26, step 406 is explained in greater detail. In step 2602, upper 20 may be formed into a secondary shape as described later with respect to FIGS. 27-31 in preparation for printing sole structure 30 onto article of footwear 10. In step 2604, formed upper 20 may be placed onto holder 91 in preparation for printing sole structure 30 onto article of footwear 10 as described later with respect to FIGS. 32 and 33.

In step 2606, holder 91 holding formed upper 20 may be inserted in 3D printer device 81 on tray 90, similar to what is shown in FIG. 7, and as shown in a pre-printing stage in FIGS. 32 and 33, and in a post-printing stage of sole structure 30 in FIG. 22. In step 2608, holder 91 holding upper 20 may be positioned as described above with respect to FIG. 18 to facilitate accurate printing of any desired CAD representation 89 and any number of slices 310.

In step 2610, 3D printer 81 executes printing of a sole structure onto a bottom surface of formed upper 20, using slices 310 provided by computer 82 and print server 83 as guides for printing and curing multiple layers of material, such as those shown in FIGS. 10-13. As discussed above, printing may include printing a resin, acrylic, or ink material onto a fabric, where the material is adhered/bonded to the fabric and where the material does not generally delaminate when flexed, rolled, worked, or subject to additional assembly processes/steps. Consistent with an embodiment, the printed sole structure may also include a filler material (not shown) to impart a strengthening or aesthetic aspect to the sole structure in one or more layers printed using slices 310. For example, the filler material may be a powdered material or dye designed to impart desired color or color patterns or transitions, metallic or plastic particles or shavings, or any other powdered mineral, metal, or plastic. Consistent with an embodiment, the sole structure printed in step 2610 may thus be a composite material.

In step 2612, progress of printing in 3D printer 81 may be periodically evaluated. For example, one may evaluate the progress of printing after several layers of material are printed and cured, as shown, for example, in FIGS. 30-33.

In step 2614, if desired printing is not complete, or if adjustments are desired during printing, holder 91 holding upper 20 may be repositioned on tray 90 and realigned, or printing materials for use in 3D printing may be changed, to facilitate printing of desired CAD representation 89 by proceeding back to step 2610.

In step 2616, if desired printing is complete, printed sole structure 79 may be inspected and holder 91 removed from 3D printer 81. In step 2616, desired printing may appear in any desired shape, pattern, or thickness, for example, as shown in FIG. 39 or 45, and may or may not be partially absorbed into a portion of the bottom surface of upper 20.

Consistent with an embodiment, FIG. 27 illustrates an approximately plan view of upper 20 including tongue 60 and lace apertures 41 laid substantially flat after printing of printed material 70 and prior to printing of sole structure 30 on footwear 10 shown in FIGS. 1-5. As shown in FIG. 27, upper 20 may contain one or more regions of fabric 23, which may or may not contain printed material 70, in order to facilitate forming of upper 20 for printing of sole structure 30.

For example, FIG. 28 illustrates upper 20 including tongue 60, lace apertures 41, printed material 70, and sockliner 33 during a portion of an exemplary assembly process of manufacturing footwear 10. As shown in FIG. 28, upper 20 may be formed and shaped after printing of printed material 70, in preparation for mating with and attachment to sockliner 33. Further, as shown in FIG. 29, and consistent with an embodiment, upper 20 is then connected with Strobel-stitch 34 to sockliner 33 to complete formation of upper 20 into a secondary shape. Upper 20 and sockliner 33 may then be further manipulated to present a bottom surface of sockliner 33 for additional printing steps of sole materials as shown in FIG. 32, and as further described below.

Also for example, FIG. 30 illustrates upper 20 including tongue 60, lace apertures 41, printed material 70, and fabric 23 during a portion of an exemplary assembly process of manufacturing footwear 10, similar to FIGS. 27 and 28. As shown in FIG. 30, upper 20 may be formed and shaped after printing, in preparation for printing of sole structure 30. As shown in FIG. 30, fabric 23 may surround the region of upper 20 containing printed material 70, and be part of upper 20. Further, as shown in FIG. 31, and consistent with an embodiment, upper 20, including fabric 23, may be formed and shaped after printing onto upper 20, such that regions of fabric 23 are subsequently folded underneath upper 20 and connected with line stitch 35 to complete formation of upper 20 into a secondary shape. Upper 20 may then be further manipulated to present a bottom surface for additional printing steps of sole materials as shown in FIG. 33, as further described below.

It will be appreciated that some illustrated elements of assembly of footwear 10 may vary or not be shown in the interest of simplifying illustrations throughout this disclosure. For example, a last may or may not be used to hold upper 20 in tray 90 shown in FIGS. 32 and 33. Alternatively, other additional elements or assembly steps may be included. For example, upper 20 may be joined to sockliner 33 using thermoforming applications, such as polymer heat seal seam tapes as disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 8,028,440, which is incorporated herein by reference. Also for example, upper 20 may be joined to sockliner 33 using one or more vacuum forming methods, such as those disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 8,162,022 and in related and allowed U.S. patent application Ser. No. 13/352,717, both of which are also incorporated herein by reference.

Consistent with an embodiment, FIGS. 34-37 illustrate cross sectional views of a printing sequence of multiple 3D layers of printed sole material 79 on a bottom surface upper 20 to form sole structure 30. For example, FIG. 34 illustrates first layer 75 of printed sole material 79 deposited onto upper 20. As described above with respect to FIGS. 14-17, printed sole material 79 may be ejected or otherwise emitted from printhead 120 via nozzle 122 in the form of droplets 124. One of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that the form of droplets 124 may vary depending on the actual material ejected or otherwise emitted from nozzle 122. Droplets 124 may thus be any viscosity liquid material, or even a semi-solid material. Consistent with an embodiment, droplets 124 may be any desired material or phase of material suitable for use in 3D printing system 80.

Still referring to FIG. 34, in some embodiments, first layer 75 may be cured by UV light 126, however, in other embodiments, first layer 75 may be deposited without the need to cure the deposited material. Depending on the material used for printing of printed sole material 79, the material may be deposited in a liquid, semi-liquid, or otherwise gel-like or viscous phase. The material may then be solidified, at least partially, or cured, for various reasons, or to achieve desired properties, for example, to enhance durability, adhesion, or bonding of printed sole material 79 to upper 20. FIGS. 34-37 thus illustrate UV light 126 as an exemplary curing agent for use after deposition of printed sole material 79. One of ordinary skill in the art will understand that UV light 126 may be activated/applied either immediately after deposition of first layer 75, or at any desired time thereafter, depending on the nature of the desired patterns/chemistry/thickness of printed sole material 79. For simplicity, exemplary FIGS. 34-37 illustrate UV light 126 applied to cure printed sole material 79 after deposition of each layer. Depending on the material used for printing of printed sole material 79, one of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that curing of printed sole material 79 may be optional.

Still referring to FIG. 34, and consistent with an embodiment, printed sole material 79 may be at least partially absorbed into a surface region 210 of threads 22 prior to curing. For example, printed sole material 79 may be allowed to absorb into threads 22 for a predetermined amount of time after deposition and prior to curing with UV light 126. One of ordinary skill in the art will understand that such a predetermined amount of time will vary depending on the material used for printed sole material 79, as an absorption rate may be affected by the wettability or permeability of threads 22 to the deposited material, the viscosity or temperature of the material during printing, and the pressure or speed at which the material is ejected from printhead 92 onto threads 22. Consistent with an embodiment, therefore, such a predetermined amount of time after deposition and prior to optional curing with UV light 126 may be essentially immediately after deposition, or may be contemplated seconds or minutes thereafter.

Consistent with an embodiment, FIG. 35 illustrates second layer 76 of printed sole material 79 deposited onto layer 71, and cured by UV light 126. Second layer 76 may or may not be partially absorbed into a portion of first layer 75 prior to curing. Consistent with an embodiment, second layer 76 (and any subsequent layers) need not be deposited solely on the immediately underlying layer. One of ordinary skill in the art will understand that variations in printing patterns/thicknesses layers are contemplated. For example, second layer 76 may be deposited on any desired portion of upper 20, which may include partial or complete coverage of layer 75, or may include no coverage of layer 75. For example, if second layer 76 is partially deposited on layer 75 and partially deposited on upper 20, second layer 76 may or may not be partially absorbed into a portion of first layer 75 and a portion of upper 20 prior to optional curing.

Consistent with an embodiment, FIG. 36 illustrates a third layer 77 of printed sole material 79 deposited onto layer 76, and optionally cured by UV light 126. Third layer 77 may or may not be partially absorbed into at least a portion of second layer 76, at least a portion of first layer 75, and/or at least a portion of upper 20 if so printed, prior to curing. FIG. 37 likewise illustrates a fourth layer 78 of printed sole material 79 deposited onto layer 77, and optionally cured by UV light 126. Fourth layer 78 may or may not be partially absorbed into at least a portion of third layer 77, at least a portion of second layer 76, at least a portion of first layer 75, and/or at least a portion of upper 20 if so printed, prior to optional curing. Consistent with an embodiment, any number of layers may be printed to form printed sole material 79. Also consistent with an embodiment, upper 20 may be removed from tray 90 upon completion of printing.

One of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that the printed layers forming printed sole material 79 may originate with different materials, colors, chemistries, optional fillers, etc., in order to fully customize the desired properties of sole structure 30. Printed sole material 79 may also comprise layers having gradients of colors blended amongst the layers, or may comprise gradients of elasticity due to variations in material ejected from printhead 92 during printing of printed sole material 79. For example, printed sole material 79 may comprise layers of low elasticity printed material alternated or in conjunction with layers of high elasticity material. Consistent with an embodiment, exemplary moduli of elasticity for printed sole material 79 may range from about 10 MPa to about 4,000 MPa. Consistent with an embodiment, exemplary flexural strength for printed sole material 79 may range from about 35 MPa to about 300 MPa. Consistent with an embodiment, exemplary flexural moduli for printed sole material 79 may range from about 1,200 MPa to about 12,000 MPa. And, consistent with an embodiment, exemplary tensile strength for printed sole material 79 may range from about 0.5 MPa to about 150 MPa.

One of ordinary skill in the art will also recognize that the printed layers forming printed sole material 79 may comprise layers of material having at least a first color alternated or in conjunction with layers having at least a second color. For example, printed sole material 79 may be designed to impart high strength and low elasticity in heel region 13 of sole structure 30, while maintaining high elasticity and flexibility in toe region 11 of sole structure 30, and such properties may be accomplished by varying the properties of printed sole material 79 through printing of different combinations of materials and layers in any desired manner on any surface of upper 20.

For example, FIG. 38 illustrates a perspective view of a portion of printed sole material 79, showing threads 22 curved when upper 20 is formed into a secondary shape for 3D printing of sole structure 30. Consistent with an embodiment, as described in the examples above, variations in first printed layer 75, second printed layer 76, third printed layer 77, and fourth printed layer 78 are shown in printed sole material 79. Exemplary variations shown in FIG. 38 illustrate combinations of raised and recessed features as well as varied thicknesses in printed sole material 79. Such variations may be used to enhance any desired property of sole structure 30, such as, for example, increasing grip of sole structure 30 to the ground when footwear 10 is worn. Consistent with an embodiment, FIG. 39 illustrates a perspective view of footwear 10 showing sole structure 30 after printing an exemplary arrangement/pattern of printed sole material 79 described above with respect to FIGS. 34-37. As shown in FIG. 39, several layers of printed sole material 79 are shown, including exemplary first layer 3402, exemplary second layer 3404, exemplary third layer 3406, and exemplary fourth layer 3408. Consistent with an embodiment, first layer 3402, second layer 3404, third layer 3406, and fourth layer 3408 may correspond to first layer 75, second layer 76, third layer77, and fourth layer 78, respectively, as shown in and described with respect to FIGS. 34-37. One of ordinary skill in the art will recognize, however, that these layers do not have to correspond as such.

Further, exemplary variations in printed sole material 79 are illustrated in FIG. 39 in the form of exemplary raised features 3410 and exemplary recessed features 3412. Consistent with an embodiment, raised features 3410 and recessed features 3412 may correspond to features in third layer 77 and fourth layer 78 as shown in the perspective view of FIG. 38. One of ordinary skill in the art will recognize, however, that these layers do not have to correspond as such. One of ordinary skill in the art will also recognize that while an exemplary sole structure 30 is depicted by printed sole material 79, any desired shape, pattern, thickness, construction, etc., may be formed by selectively printing printed sole material 79 onto the bottom of upper 20. It will be recognized that printed sole material 79, shown in FIGS. 22, 39, and 45, for example, may appear to be one continuous deposit of material, or it may actually comprise multiple layers of sequentially printed material to form any desired printed pattern resulting in printed sole material 79 as shown.

Consistent with an embodiment, FIG. 40 illustrates a perspective view of upper 20 after 3D printing of alternative patterns and prior to completion of footwear assembly, similar to FIGS. 20 and 27. FIG. 40 thus illustrates first printed material 510 and second printed material 520 on upper 20, printed using system 80 and process 400. For reference, exemplary printing directions XY and Z are shown in FIG. 40. Consistent with an embodiment, first printed material 510 and second printed material 520 may be different materials. For example, first printed material 510 may be a thin, abrasion-resistant material. Also, for example, second printed material 520 may be a thicker, stiff material designed to provide structural support to a portion of upper 20. First printed material 510 and second printed material 520 may be disposed on any desired portion or portions of upper 20.

First printed material 510 and second printed material 520 may be printed to upper 20 to impart customized properties such as increased strength, rigidity, support, flexibility, abrasion resistance, or variations thereof based on desired properties for specific portions of the upper and the article of footwear as a whole. For example, FIGS. 41-45 illustrate footwear 10 with first printed material 510 and second printed material 520 disposed on upper 20. Consistent with an embodiment, first printed material 510 and second printed material 520 may be formed by direct 3D printing and curing of material onto upper 20 in any desired pattern, shape, or coverage. Printing and curing of first printed material 510 and second printed material 520 may be performed in accordance with exemplary system 80 and exemplary process 400. Likewise, as similarly discussed with respect to FIGS. 1-5, various portions of first printed material 510 and second printed material 520 may be interconnected, but may also not be interconnected. While first printed material 510 and second printed material 520 are generally shown in FIGS. 40-45 in forefoot and heel regions, respectively, of upper 20, one of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that first printed material 510 and second printed material 520, or one or more additional printed materials (not shown), may also be printed in the midfoot region or any other region of footwear 10. Consistent with an embodiment, first printed material 510 and second printed material 520 are adhered or otherwise bonded to upper 20, may be at least partially absorbed into a surface of upper 20, and may be formed in one or more contiguous or disjointed layers on upper 20. After printing of first printed material 510 and second printed material 520, upper 20 may be shaped for further printing of sole materials as shown in the depictions in FIGS. 28-33.

As shown in the various views of footwear 10 in FIGS. 41-45, for example, footwear 10 may comprise first printed material 510 as one or more abrasion resistant pads located in either or both of forefoot region 11 and midfoot region 12, and may be useful for protecting footwear 10, for example, while engaging in soccer. Likewise, second printed material 520 may be a strengthening rigid material customized to provide strength and support to heel region 13 of footwear 10. Consistent with an embodiment, moreover, first printed material 510 may be thinner than second printed material 520. One of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that the thickness of first printed material 510 and second printed material 520 may differ or be the same, however, depending on the desired application or use of footwear 10.

FIGS. 41-45 also illustrate alternative patterns for features on sole structure 30, for example, as cleated tread patterns for use in certain athletic shoes. For example, FIGS. 41-45 variously illustrate tread patterns 3702 printed on layer 3704, as well as structure 3706, structure 3708, and structure 3710 to form a multilayered complex cleat structure 3712 illustrated in FIGS. 43 and 45. One of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that the layers comprising complex cleat structure 3712 may be printed in any desired pattern, shape, or thickness through any number of separately, sequentially, continuously, or contiguously printed layers using any desired printing material described in this disclosure or otherwise suitable for use in 3D printing systems.

One of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that printed materials consistent with an embodiment may have a structural aspect, a visual or aesthetic aspect, or both. For example, printed materials consistent with an embodiment may be a visual or decorative indicia, logo, graphic, or reflector in the midfoot region or any other regions of footwear 10. Likewise, for example, printed materials consistent with an embodiment may be a structural material, to impart strength, abrasion resistance, protection, or stiffness to one or more regions of footwear 10. Consistent with an embodiment, printed materials may have a first characteristic for a first portion of footwear 10, and a second, third, etc., or other additional characteristics for one or more additional regions of footwear 10.

Thus, for example, as shown in FIGS. 41-45 and generally in the other figures, and consistent with an embodiment, footwear 10 may be fabricated by designing at least a first three dimensional pattern and a second three dimensional pattern (such as one or more CAD representations 89 shown in FIG. 6) for printing onto upper 20; providing the at least first and second three dimensional patterns to print server 83; positioning at least a first portion of upper 20 on tray 90 in 3D printer device 81 of system 80, the first portion being positioned substantially flat on tray 90; aligning the first portion of upper 20 with the first pattern (as shown, for example, in FIG. 18); printing at least one layer of first printed material 510 having a first material property directly onto the first portion of upper 20 using the designed first pattern; allowing the at least one layer of first printed material 510 to at least partially absorb into a first portion of a surface of upper 20; curing the at least one layer of first printed material 510; positioning at least a second portion of upper 20 on tray 90, the second portion being positioned substantially flat on tray 90; aligning the second portion of the upper with the second pattern (as similarly shown, for example, in FIG. 18); printing at least one layer of second printed material 520 having a second material property directly onto the second portion of upper 20 using the designed second pattern; allowing the at least one layer of second printed material 520 to at least partially absorb into a second portion of the surface of upper 20; curing the at least one layer of second printed material 520; removing upper 20 from 3D printer device 81; and assembling footwear 10 using the printed upper and at least one footwear component chosen from sock liner 33, midsole 31, and outsole 32 (as similarly shown, for example, in FIGS. 5, 28, and 29). Moreover, one of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that features, components, or entire structures of midsole 31 and outsole 32 may be printed consistent with an embodiment, as shown for example in step 406 of FIG. 24, in FIG. 26, and in FIGS. 34-39 and 45.

One of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that the systems and methods described throughout this disclosure can be used to 3D print any desired patterns, layers, or materials directly onto a fabric material, which allows building of a structure on the fabric for use in apparel applications.

While various embodiments have been described, the description is intended to be exemplary, rather than limiting, and it will be apparent to those of ordinary skill in the art that many more embodiments and implementations are possible that are within the scope of the disclosure. It is intended that all such additional systems, methods, features and advantages be included within this description and this summary, be within the scope of the disclosure, and be protected by the following claims.

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Patent Valuation

30.18/100 Score

Market Attractiveness

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100.0/100 Score

Market Coverage

It shows the sizes of the market that is covered with the IP and in how many countries the IP guarantees protection. It reflects a market size that is potentially addressable with the invented technology/formulation with a legal protection which also includes a freedom to operate. Here we look into the size of the impacted market.

65.72/100 Score

Technology Quality

It shows the degree of innovation that can be derived from a company’s IP. Here we look into ease of detection, ability to design around and significance of the patented feature to the product/service.

67.0/100 Score

Assignee Score

It takes the R&D behavior of the company itself into account that results in IP. During the invention phase, larger companies are considered to assign a higher R&D budget on a certain technology field, these companies have a better influence on their market, on what is marketable and what might lead to a standard.

30.82/100 Score

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